U.S. weightlifter Kendrick Farris is vegan, but he wants to inspire beyond nutrition

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  • Team USA’s Kendrick Farris may be known for his plant-based diet, but his identity goes beyond nutrition, as he speaks with passion about family, faith and his journey to the Olympics.

By RICHARD O’BRIEN

August 12, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO – Every one of the thousands of athletes at any Olympic Games has a story—personal, nuanced, almost always compelling or heart-warming. But unless you’re talking about one of the golden headliners—a Phelps, a Biles, a Bolt—so many of the other men and women, if they get any media attention at all, tend to get reduced to a facile epithet: the Fencer in Hijab; the Forty-one-year-old Gymnast; the Wheelchair Archer.

Which makes Kendrick Farris the Vegan Weightlifter.

LAURENCE GRIFFITHS/GETTY IMAGES

But just a short conversation with the 30-year-old Farris, the United States’ sole entrant in men’s weightlifting in Rio (he will compete on Saturday in the 94kg class), makes it clear that the Shreveport, La., native and three-time Olympian is more than just a nutritional curiosity.

Seated on a bench in the vast and otherwise empty weightlifting training hall at Rio Centro 5 on Wednesday night, after completing his final lifting workout before his event, the softspoken Farris, who looks a bit like the actor Clarke Peters from The Wire—if Peters were sporting dreads, an untrimmed beard, and an extra 50 pounds of concrete-like muscle—is perfectly happy to talk about his surprising diet. “What did I have for lunch?” he says in response to a reporter’s probing question. “Let’s see, I had a salad, grilled vegetables, some sweet potatoes, some black beans and rice. A lot of different things. I do like the beans, yeah. The beans are good.”

OLYMPICS
At the midway point, evaluating NBC’s coverage of the 2016 Rio Olympics

Then, over another half hour of conversation, which continues in a hallway after security personnel come through to close the training room for the night, Farris goes beyond recipes and nutritional tips. He speaks with passion about his personal journey from the disadvantaged Shreveport neighborhood of Stoner Hill to the Olympics, about family and faith, about the lost histories of the millions of descendants of the slave trade and about the need for “people who look like myself,” as he puts it, to find a sense of purpose and connection. He says that he sees his Olympic platform—both the literal one and the metaphorical one—as an opportunity to inspire other young people from difficult backgrounds and to spread the message that knowledge is empowering.

“Stoner Hill is just an inner-city neighborhood, no different from so many other neighborhoods that you can find throughout the United States,” Farris says. “But I was inspired to go out an see more and make connections.”

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